Pyrmont Movie Review: Milk
In 1978 activist Harvey Milk became the first openly gay man to be elected to a public office, as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. As a SF Bay Area native, I am more than familiar with the touching story that embedded itself into the cities culture, and I think this is the perfect time in our history for an international audience to be familiar with the amazing Milk. Sean Penn’s portrayal of the charismatic and outspoken Milk, made my skin tingle. I felt a mixture of pride and homesickness, but mostly pride. This happens when I watch other great people like Obama and Martin Luther King.
The film is effective at showing the challenges and the responsibilities of heading a revolution. When Milk came to the Castro in 1972 he was a free spirited hippy, looking to live an open lifestyle with his partner. Facing opposition from some of his more conservative neighbours when he opened Castro Camera, Milk began organizing his queer peers in only supporting queer friendly businesses. This empowered the gay community and changed the Castro forever.
The film briefly portrays his life in New York before he moved to California with his lover Scott Smith (Josh Franco). It easily captures the passion and paranoia that comes with being an open gay man, particularly in the seventies. The film shows Milks transition from a closeted insurance salesman to the enigmatic community organizer affectionately nicknamed “The Mayor of The Castro”.
Milk was a part of an internationally maligned community, and he stood up and fought and continued to fight despite defeat. Unfortunately, like King, Milk too came to a tragic end after only 11 months in office. Former supervisor Dan White, angry at his loss of job and at odds with Milk’s open persona, assassinated Mayor George Muscone and Harvey Milk November 1978. By opening the film with the news footage announcement after the assassination it prepares us to watch a film that explores Milks life rather than just events leading to his death. Josh Brolin does an exceptional job of portraying the conflicted Dan White, who is seemingly at odds with his conservative lifestyle. One almost and I mean almost, feels sorry for White and his self-imposed outsider status.
Milk was directed with the poetic and at times startling style of Gus Van Sant (Elephant, Good Will Hunting) and written by Dustin Lance Black (Big Love). All of the characters in Milk were played exceptionally well, with notable performances by Josh Franco, Diego Luna as Jack Lira Milk’s neglected Mexican lover and Emile Hirsch as Cleve Jones the flighty party boy turned powerful gay activist.
The voice over of the film is based on the recording Milk made after his election in the even that he was assassinated. The recording is eerie, touching and infuriating. Infuriating that any figure that represents revolutionary change has to prepare for the very real possibility of assassination. This film is a must see.